EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - The recently increased enforcement of illegal marijuana growing operations in El Paso County is forcing other operators to stop growing or move to other locations.
That's according to Sheriff Bill Elder, who has made stepped-up enforcement a priority since the beginning of the year.
"We are achieving the desired result," he said. "We never in a million years thought we were going to search and arrest people from all 650 grows. Our goal is to drive those numbers way down."
Elder said deputies have raided 19 illegal operations and 20 have shut down or left the area.
"We're tracking them to see where they go and if they set up again," he said. "Word is getting around that we're serious about this."
Lt. Bill Huffor has worked some of the investigations.
"Usually, what we find is the house is completely empty," he said. "All of the equipment used to grow marijuana has been taken down because it's expensive. We never see them leave. They probably do under cover of darkness."
Elder said the illegal operations occur mostly in rented homes.
"The property owners don't find out until after the fact," he said. "A couple of places have been re-leased to new tenants who clean the property. We know of a couple that were left in very serious disarray."
Elder expects more growers to cease operations or leave in the next few months, as the current harvest period ends.
"We're also getting more tips from the public about these operations," he said.
Having fewer operations to investigate is a benefit for deputies who remain busy with the 19 raids in the first two months of the year.
On Friday, Huffor showed off a 20-foot trailer serving as an evidence locker for seized marijuana.
"We've emptied it once and it's already half full," he said. "There are 150 bags in here. We've acquired a 40-foot trailer to provide more storage. We save five pounds from each bust and eventually destroy the rest."
Deputies still haven't released details of Thursday's raid in Yoder, where a man was found to have a legal number of marijuana plants but also evidence of illegal hash oil production.